Sarai Blincoe, Longwood University – Trust

On Longwood University Week:  There’s lots to consider when deciding whether to trust someone.

Sarai Blincoe, associate professor of social psychology, explores three things we look to give us answers.

Dr. Sarai Blincoe is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology and the Assistant Dean of Curriculum and Assessment in the Cook-Cole College of Arts & Sciences. She joined the Longwood faculty in 2012 after earning her Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from the University of Kentucky.

She regularly teaches undergraduate courses in quantitative methods, social psychology, and the psychology of warfare and terrorism and her research interests include disrespect, trust, and topics in the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). Learn more about Dr. Blincoe’s research at her lab website.

Dr. Blincoe lives in Farmville with her husband (Adam), daughter (Aurora) and two cats. She enjoys hiking and has the goal of visiting every Virginia State Park!



How do we decide whom to trust? What do we do if we need to gain the trust of someone from a different group, someone who may have reason for distrust? My research explores the power of sacrificial actions for building trust and restoring broken trust, particularly in high-risk cross-cultural situations like those found in combat and conflict zones.

An oft-cited model of trust formation suggests that when deciding whether, and how much, to trust someone, we consider three things: their integrity, or a set of morals and ethics; their benevolence, or the degree to which the person wants good things for us; and their abilities, the skills and characteristics at the person’s disposal. Americans in particular use assessments of ability; whereas members of collectivist cultures, such as those in Middle Eastern nations, emphasize benevolence and integrity. Unfortunately, in cross-cultural situations, especially conflict situations, there are often many reasons for one group of people to doubt the integrity and benevolence of the other group, thus hindering trust.

Sacrificial action could be a powerful strategy for creating or restoring perceptions of integrity and benevolence. In one study, research participants were more likely to trust and support the work of a foreign official when he chose to work on an important community project without pay, a sacrifice, as opposed to working on the project as the result of a job promotion.

Making a purposeful sacrifice to jumpstart the trust-building process will carry risks, particularly in conflict settings. For example, if patrolling soldiers reduce the amount of body armor they wear or weaponry they carry, they are sacrificing personal safety; but their sacrifice can signal a willingness to trust the civilian population. Research on the psychology of trust, in particular the role of sacrifice in trust-building, could fundamentally alter the way that military personnel, NGO workers, and others, approach relationship-building in conflict environments.